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Halo 4 Review

(The Verge)- For anyone wondering if the Halo series would maintain its high level of quality in the hands of a different developer, you can rest assured that Halo 4 is a worthy addition to one of video game’s biggest franchises. After Bungie’s farewell letter to series with Halo Reach, 343 Industries have picked up the torch and made a product that looks and feels the way a Halo game should. From the engaging campaign, fleshed out multiplayer, robust customization systems, and overall level of polish, Halo 4 is the most fully featured game in the series yet. Despite not being overly iterative, particularly with the single player, the game still manages to be an enjoyable, if not familiar  experience.

Halo 4 marks the return of Master Chief, the “Spartan” super-solider and walking one-liner factory from the first three games. Also returning is his A.I. companion, Cortana, who actually takes a prominent role in the story. After a pre-rendered custscene revealing some backstory on the Spartan program, the game begins with Master Chief awaking from his cryo-tube (and inexplicably wearing a new set of armor) to fight off a horde of Covenant trying to destroy his ship. Right off the bat, some players might feel some fatigue (and confusion) having to fight the Covenant again, especially after the events at the end of Halo 3. Thankfully, once the Master Chief and Cortana land on the planet “Requim”, which serves as a former home for the ancient “Forerunner” people, you will discover a new set of enemies known as the “Prometheans.” The Promethans are a welcome addition to the Halo campaign, providing different ways to approach enemy encounters as well as giving the player new weapons to experiment with. Still, actually fighting these enemies doesn’t change the overall gameplay all that drastically, and a lot of the new weapons feel like slightly retooled versions of existing ones.

Cortana is a much more developed character in Halo 4. She is also blue. [Image taken from smh.com.au]

As I mentioned earlier, Halo 4’s story focuses more on Cortana than the previous installments. At the start of the game, she reveals that A.I. units like herself begin to deteriorate after seven years (she was put into commission eight years prior) and that she is experiencing “rampancy”, causing her to go insane.  Watching Cortana slowly become less stable and seeing Chief’s reactions help enhance the relationship between the two characters, as well as giving her more human qualities. While I never had any real attachment to Cortana as a character in the earlier games, I did appreciate the developers giving her a more prominent role. I would have liked to see more character development from Master Chief, although it is implied that he will have a much bigger role in future games.

I found the story to be a bit all over the place. The game tries to create a more personal dynamic between Master Chief and Cortana while at the same time presenting this much greater overarching narrative. This results in a story that can be a bit difficult to grasp and leaves the player wondering why exactly they are doing what they are doing in the first place. A lot of things are also left unexplained, or not explained enough. By the end of the game, I still wasn’t exactly sure what the main villain’s evil scheme was. It also doesn’t help that the main villain is fairly forgettable, and his demise is completely underwhelming.

A Promethean Knight, one of the new enemies in the game. [Image taken from http://digitalgaudium.com]

 Presentation wise, you can tell 343 went all out with the production. The game is more cinematic in both its cutscenes and gameplay sections, making for a more grand experience. Halo 4 is also the best looking game in the series by far, and is one of the prettiest games on the 360. Many of the environments are gorgeous to look at, thanks to the game’s distinct art style and lighting techniques. The soundtrack, composed by Neil Davidge, does an incredible job filling in for previous Halo composer, Marty O’Donnell. Each track fits seamlessly with what is occurring on screen, with swelling orchestral sections to more subdued electronic sounds. I would highly recommend picking up the original soundtrack if you are into that kind of thing. The sound design is also praise worthy, with the classic Halo noises still present as well as new sounds fitting right in with the overall aesthetic.

While the traditional Halo look and feel are in full effect, there are times where some diversion would have been welcome. The campaign, while fun and engaging, can begin to feel a bit monotonous at times since the overall gameplay has not changed dramatically. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, although for a game that touts itself as the beginning of a new trilogy, it would have been nice to see more variation in the gameplay. The campaign is also surprisingly short for a Halo game, taking me approximately five and a half hours to finish on normal difficulty. This can obviously be extending by playing on higher difficulty settings, and the inclusion of four-player co-op gives the game a decent amount of replay value.

“Hey, pal! Can’t we just talk this out!?” [Taken from static.guim.co.uk]

Of course, no Halo game would be complete without a fully featured multiplayer component  The series that essentially put Xbox Live on the map continues in its tradition of offering a myriad of multiplayer modes that will keep any fan busy for years to come. Whether you decide to play team slayer, objective based games, or big team battles, there are enough modes to jump back and forth between to keep the multiplayer experience fresh every time. The Forge mode also returns, allowing players to create custom maps and game types with an almost overwhelming amount of freedom.  Just a fair warning, I experienced some noticeable lag issues when playing online. Hopefully this will be fixed later down the road.

This time around, there are several new features included to online play, such as an upgrades based progression system as well as perks and in-game power ups. Halo Reach was the first game in the series to have a points based progression system awarding cosmetic items, but Halo 4 takes it a step further by rewarding the player with weapon loadouts as well as armor abilities. You also have the ability to call in “ordnance drops” based on your performance in a match. These can contain anything from weapons to increased health or damage. The inclusion of ordinance drops mixes things up enough to keep the matches interesting while not completely breaking the game’s balance.

The biggest new addition to multiplayer is the Spartan Ops mode. This mode is essentially a fleshed out version of Firefight that was in Halo ODST and Reach. When you select the mode, you can chose from a list of “chapters” in an episode where you and up to three team mates must complete mission objects while fighting off hordes of enemies. There is currently only one episode available with five selectable chapters, although 343 plans on releasing a new episode each week for the next ten weeks with future episodes planned for later seasons. Spartan Ops is a great deal of fun since it gives each team mate more of an incentive to work together to complete each objective. It still would have been nice to see the traditional Firefight mode available in addition to Spartan Ops.

Whether you are coming to Halo 4 for the campaign and story, competitive multiplayer, cooperative play, or all of the above, this game has you covered on all fronts. While it would have been nice to see more risks taken with the single player, each component that makes up the overall package stands incredibly well on their own, and serve collectively as a great product. 343 Industries have proven that they have what it takes to follow in the footsteps Bungie have laid before them, and it will be exciting to see where the they take the series next.